By Thomas Hawkins | April 22, 2021

The case for auto portability, the new 401(k) plan default feature that automatically transfers small-balance retirement savings when participants change jobs, has always been strong. Now, with the April 22nd release of EBRI’s 31st Annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS), the case has grown stronger.

In EBRI’s study, actual plan participants were surveyed and gave the concept of auto portability their overwhelming endorsement, with nearly 9 of 10 respondents indicating that the feature would be valuable. Even more compelling, the RCS also found that the demographic segments that stand to benefit the most from auto portability – minorities, younger age groups and lower-income segments – value the feature even more.

The clear sentiment of participants builds on the case for the widespread adoption of auto portability, which already has demonstrable benefits for participants, plan sponsors, service providers and for our society.

About the EBRI Retirement Confidence Survey
EBRI’s Retirement Confidence Survey is the longest-running survey of its kind and is conducted annually by EBRI and the independent research firm Greenwald Research. According to EBRI, the RCS gauges the views and attitudes of working-age and retired Americans regarding retirement, their preparations for retirement, their confidence with various aspects of retirement and related issues.

In 2021, EBRI expanded the RCS to focus on diversity, specifically examining the retirement security of Black and Latinx workers and retirees. EBRI also expanded the RCS to include additional questions addressing workplace retirement savings programs, including the question on auto portability.

The Importance of EBRI’s Finding
In various articles, I have addressed auto portability’s appeal from the perspectives of corporate social responsibility, plan sponsors and service providers.

For 401(k) participants, there’s already an embarrassment of riches in authoritative research demonstrating auto portability’s positive impact in curbing cashout leakage, preserving retirement savings and boosting financial wellness.

Until now, the only missing element has been the voice of actual 401(k) participants.

In the new RCS, survey respondents who were offered a workplace retirement plan were asked:
How valuable would it be to you if your retirement plan savings with a previous employer were automatically transferred to your current employer’s plan if/when you changed jobs?

85.3%, or nearly 9 in 10 respondents, indicated that automatic transfer (i.e., auto portability) would be valuable to them.

A deeper dive into the RCS results reveals that those who stand to benefit most from auto portability want it even more – including minorities, younger age groups and lower-income workers:

  • 89.6% (Black)
  • 90.9% (Hispanic)
  • 94.6% (ages 25-34)
  • 90.7% (ages 35-44)
  • 91.1% (household income <$25k)
  • 86.0% (household income $25k - $49k)
  • 87.9% (household income $50k - $90k)

The EBRI RCS results are remarkable, particularly when you contrast them with a December 2020 survey from LIMRA, which found that “6 in 10 workers are interested in a workplace emergency savings account.”

The Case for Auto Portability (Video)
Incorporating the findings from the EBRI RCS, the brief video below summarizes the latest, compelling case for auto portability’s widespread adoption.